The f-word podcasters think the most about is….

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Friction is the thing.

It’s not as easy, convenient or simple as it should be to discover podcasts, or find shows that fit your range of interests. Confusion and complexity are holding us back.

The first barrier for wannabe podcast listeners is the prompt. iTunes and other platforms suggest that you “subscribe.” But this is a lousy name for it. Sounds like a loyalty program. Subscriptions involve paying for something, but podcasts are free.

That’s the first piece of friction.

Search is also a big problem. Our news solutions podcast, “How Do We Fix It?” is a show that asks experts about what works to improve civic and political life. But someone who searches for “how to fix it,” “solutions,” “fixes” or “what works”, won’t find our shows. Other podcasters have similar problems.

More friction.

Smart speakers are a huge thing these days. But the vocal prompts for podcasts are not as easy as they should be. Friction!

All this presents a problem and a great opportunity.

Podcasting needs its own industry association or trade group.

Investments should be made by Audible, Spotify, NPR and other big players to produce witty, creative and catchy public information videos and radio spots that would reach out to the tens of millions of people who engage online, but haven’t got a clue how to listen to podcasts. Facebook, where many non-millennials gather, is an obvious place to start. Then advertise on the next Super Bowl!

Big podcasters should launch a contest with an enticing prize for the best five YouTube videos that show folks how to engage with podcasts.

Fight friction with fun.

More than 550,000 podcasts are on iTunes– and the number is growing all the time. Two- thirds of Americans have heard of the term “podcast,” but fewer than one-in-five  are regular listeners. With nearly 50 million regular listeners, podcasting has come a long way in the past few years. But it’s time to take it to the next level.

The launch of the new Google Podcasts app may go a long way towards this goal.  Until now, Apple has been the dominant player. Google says its goal is to help listeners and make it “easier for them to discover and listen to the podcasts they love.” If the search giant uses AI to improve podcast script and voice search, this would be a major breakthrough.

At Podcast Movement in Philadelphia last week, Tom Webster of Edison Research said: “The key to moving from 48 million weekly podcast listeners to the 100 million mark is understanding why those people familiar with the term “podcasting” have never listened.”

48% the “I have’t heard a podcast” crowd say they’re not sure how to listen. A similar number believe, incorrectly, that podcasts cost money and suck up a lot of data. 37% don’t understand what they are.

The challenges are great, but so is the potential to reach into new, and often marginalized communities. Most early podcast adopters were white men. It’s time for industry leaders to be more diverse, and to reflect the country at large.

Fewer than one-in-four podcasts have a woman host. Thanks to Kerri Hoffman of PRX, Laura Walker at WNYC and others, positive, powerful efforts are underway to correct this.  Ethnic, racial, class, viewpoint and geographic diversity are also needed to boost the authenticity, reach and range of podcasting.

Nearly one-in-five Americans own smart speakers. They’re the fastest growing electronic devices since most of us got a smart phone. Smart speakers introduce a different way to listen. Others may be in the room with us. We are not on ear buds nor headphones. Podcast listening might become more social, and in some cases less intimate.

The future for podcasting may include more short quiz shows, games and drama.

How about a 12-minute soap opera with revolving characters that has audiences coming back for more every day? It’s already been tried in the U.K. “The Archers”  has been running for nearly 70 years, with nearly 19,000 episodes under it’s belt. It’s the world’s longest running radio soap opera.

With podcasts, what’s old can be new again.

“Can Podcasting Save The Planet” is the latest episode of “How Do We Fix It?’

Richard Davies is a podcaster, consultant and media coach. He runs DaviesContent.

 

Star Wars, Holiday Toys and The Magic of How Kids Play

  
Have you finished your holiday shopping yet?  

Me neither.

Over the years, I’ve the found that the hardest – and most delightful – people to buy for are kids. The toys, games and gifts that we get them represent much more than simply a nice little trinket of affection.  

They’re symbols of our relationships with the children we love and who we want them to be. 

In recent years technology has wreaked havoc with the toy industry, vastly expanding choice and redefining the nature of play.

 “The toy industry is a 19th Century business trying very hard to break into the 21st,” says my friend, Richard Gottlieb of Global Toy Experts. Toy makers have had a devil of a time dealing with the digital aspects of play.

“The fight is no longer for space on a shelf, but time in a kid’s head.”

Video games, apps and social media present the industry with “an almost an existential crisis,” says Richard.  They’ve forced the folks at Lego, Mattel, Hasbro and countless other companies to ask themselves: “Who are we? What is a toy? How do we play?”

My podcast co-host, Jim Meigs and I interviewed Richard for “How Do We Fix It?”  We had a lot of fun and came away with a more open-minded view of what a great toy can be.  Unlike so many in the toy industry, our guest, a long-time consultant and marketing expert, is both playful and passionate.

Richard loves the challenges that tech has brought to our world and how it’s changed our thinking on so many things. He’s in the business of unwrapping new ideas.

All of us fall into one of three categories, he says. “Digital native, digital immigrant – we speak with an accent – or you never made the trip and stayed back in the analog world.”

“Many toy companies are led by people who never made the trip.”  For them and even for many parents “it’s very hard to grasp the fact that we’ve had an evolutionary change in children.” 

They don’t always play the way we did when we were kids.  That might be disturbing, but the change does need to be understood.

Has this ever happened to you? 

“You see a kid in a restaurant with his family and his head is stuck inside of a cellphone playing a game and you say ‘what a crappy kid'”.  But that child, Richard insists, “doesn’t feel like he’s in a different space.  The reality is that his family is in there with him.” 

Children “don’t see a bright line between what’s virtual, what’s digital and what’s real.”

Which brings me back to what we put under the Christmas Tree.  Perhaps it shouldn’t be a thing, but an experience.  A trip or an outing, maybe.

For two decades I produced an annual feature for ABC News Radio called “Shopping For Kids.” Richard Gottlieb was a frequent guest.  So were the independent consumer experts Joanne and Stephanie Oppenheim, who publish the excellent ToyPortfolio Guide. 

  
Every year around this time, friends and colleagues would stop by and ask me “what’s the hot toy?” 

In recent years there’s been a parade of Elmo’s, Hot Wheels and Barbies.  This month almost anything to do with “Star Wars” is flying off the shelves – and perhaps for good reason.

Many parents were kids when those first incredible “Star Wars” movies came out.  They had a love affair with the characters.  The new toys represent a chance for Moms, Dads and their children to connect over a shared passion.

In general, instead of looking at hot toy lists (that are often paid for and promoted by large toy companies), I like what the folks at the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York have to say. 

Each year, since 1999, they’ve inducted several toys and games into the Hall, using a generous definition of the popular products and experiences that have graced our lives.  

Mr. Potato Head, Play Doh, Easy-Bake Oven, Barbie, and Etch A Sketch are all in there, but so are bubbles, the stick, the ball and the cardboard box. 

“A lot of folks in the toy industry think they just compete with a lot of other folks in the toy industry,” says Richard Gottlieb.  But the truth is “anybody who sells the tools of play competes with anybody else – whether they’re in the amusement park business, video games, apps, or whatever.”

Last year Richard organized The World Congress of Play, an event that brought together people from robotics, artificial intelligence, theme parks and the toy industry.  The emphasis was on play. Not on products.

Perhaps we could all bring a greater sense of adventure, wonder and possibilities to gift buying.

Photos:  Flier for Star Wars Toy, Richard Davies with Richard Gottlieb at ABC News Radio, ToyPortfolio.com